Standard commercial vehicles often are too heavy duty for small business owners, including contractors, and SUVs, minivans, and cars don’t provide the same convenience and durability as vans and trucks. Ford thinks it has the answer to this problem: the Transit Connect light-duty commercial van. The van, which has been available in Europe since the early 2000s and will hit the U.S. market this summer, not only stores materials, products, and tools more efficiently and loads more easily than consumer vehicles, it also is more compact than a standard commercial van, which makes it easier to maneuver on tight city streets as well as more fuel efficient, Ford claims.
Furthermore, the van features a number of optional technological features, such as an in-dash computer and fleet management software.
“Now a small business owner can have a choice in a light-duty vehicle ready for commercial use,” Len Deluca, director of sales and marketing for Ford’s commercial truck segment, said during a press event in Alexandria, Va.
Transit Connect, which has a base price of $21,475, is 180.7 inches long, 70.7 inches wide (without the mirrors), and 79.3 inches high at curb. By comparison, Ford’s 2009 E-150 commercial cargo van measures 216.7 inches long, 79.4 inches wide (without the mirrors), and 82.4 inches high.
Besides fuel efficiency, maneuverability, and a spacious storage area, the most impressive thing about the Ford van may be its optional Work Solutions package, which also is available on some Ford trucks. These high-tech options include:
An on-board computer, which allows users to browse the Web, remotely access work computers, and complete documents on site. It also has GPS navigation. ($1,395)
The Crew Chief system, which lets fleet owners track and monitor vehicles. ($550)
Tool Link, which uses Radio Frequency Identification to ensure all tools and equipment are in the van. ($1,220)
Nokia Bluetooth functionality for hands-free phone operation. ($220)
The van also can be fitted with shelves, racks, and other storage accessories for $300 to $400, according to the auto maker.
Ron Caffi, president of Alexandria-based Caffi Contracting Services, opened up his business for a pit stop during the press event. Caffi doesn’t own a Transit Connect, but was asked by Ford to review materials about the vehicle. He said the van’s GPS system could save his plumbing service technicians five to 10 minutes of drive time per delivery, as well as make it easier for his workers to navigate unfamiliar territory if he expands his business into Washington, D.C.
The vehicle also is easier to drive in the city than his heavy-duty vans, Caffi said, and the fleet management system would allow him to send the closest worker to unexpected jobs.
However, Caffi remarked that the van is too small to handle the heavy equipment needed for some major construction jobs. But, he said he envisions it for residential service work, general contracting, finish carpentry, and painting projects.
Although he doesn’t have plans to buy one immediately, the remodeler raved about Transit Connect. “I’m glad to see an American manufacturer step up and fill a need that’s been around for a long time.”
Victoria Markovitz is associate editor of Building Products, Custom Home, and ProSales magazines.